EPA chief Scott Pruitt thinks $1,600 is reasonable for a D.C.-New York flight

He says he has to choose the pricier travel options because if he doesn’t, his life could be in jeopardy.​

EPA chief Scott Pruitt is costing us a fortune in first-class flights.

The agency’s internal watchdog was already investigating Pruitt after it was revealed he took nearly $60,000 in private and military flights last year, and newly obtained documents show that even when he flew commercial, he often chose pricey tickets in first or business class, a break with previous precedent, The Washington Post reports. The EPA administrator says he has to choose the pricier travel options because if he doesn’t his life could be in jeopardy.

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Eye-popping first-class trips included a $1,641.43 flight from Washington, D.C., to New York City in June, a $7,003.52 round-trip ticket to Italy later that month, and a $10,830 tour of central U.S. states, according to documents obtained by the Environmental Integrity Project via the Freedom of Information Act. Pruitt often incurred multiple times the costs his aides did for tickets. They flew coach.

Federal regulations encourage officials to fly on the cheap, but they can request first-class travel when there are “exceptional security circumstances” where the “use of coach class accommodations would endanger your life or government property.” According to the documents, Pruitt regularly uses this provision to justify his seats.

Before taking a job in the administration, Pruitt was an avowed critic of the EPA as Oklahoma’s attorney general, saying the EPA was wasting taxpayer dollars on unnecessary policies. An EPA spokesperson told the Post federal ethics officials approved all of Pruitt’s travel, and the EPA inspector general’s office has previously said Pruitt has received more death threats than any of his predecessors.

The EPA chief’s tenure has been marked with an obsession with security, with Pruitt taking the unprecedented steps of installing a personal, round-the-clock security detail for himself and building a secure phone booth in his office that cost nearly $25,000.

Pruitt also tends to bring more aides along, and to travel more secretively than past EPA administrators did, regularly travelling without announcing his schedule ahead of time. EPA officials say this is for security reasons.

Pruitt’s travel practices have attracted their share of critics. The EPA launched an investigation into Pruitt’s flights last August after pressure from Democrats in Congress. The Environmental Integrity Project has sued the EPA to get more documents on Pruitt’s travel, including closed-door speeches to industry officials.

Donald Trump’s campaign rallies often featured the candidate speaking in front of his private jet, and his administration has come under consistent criticism for its expensive travel tendencies. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price resigned in September following reports about his use of private and military jets for government jets, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has also been investigated for improper travel practices.

Cover: Scott Pruitt speaks to the media during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)